View: Why I Will Never Shut Up About Sports Betting and iGaming Hiring More Women

Written By Katie Kohler on December 15, 2021

Editor’s Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect PlayPennsylvania’s position.

The ladies bathroom is a mysterious place to some who ask, “what takes us so long?” and “why do we go in pairs?” It’s because we solve problems in there.

There was no line for the women’s restroom at the SBC Summit North America in early December. During the two-day sports betting and iGaming conference in Secaucus, New Jersey, I slipped by the line formed in front of the men’s room into the ladies room.

The common consensus of the sparse number of women at the conference: “We are here. We need to keep moving forward and hope the industry will catch up.”

Off the record, of course.

So, as I touched up my makeup and adjusted my Spanx, I wondered if I should just shut up.

Number of women in sports media

What exactly are the numbers for women in sports media?

The Associated Press Sports Editors 2021 Sports Media Racial and Gender Report Card reviewed the hiring practices of over 100 newspapers and websites.

The report found:

  • 16.7% of women sports editors
  • 14.4% of women sports reporters

The first daily newspaper in the U.S. began publishing in 1784. Women earned the right to vote in 1920. In 2019, 57% of women participated in the U.S. workforce (compared to 69% of men).

Those numbers from the report card are not progress. They are horrible.

Maybe I should shut up. The Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) was repealed in May 2018 which paved the way for the spread of sports betting legalization outside of Nevada. Pennsylvania was one of the first states where sports betting apps and online casinos arrived in 2019.

At least there were some women at the SBC Summit and (hopefully) iGaming and sports betting won’t move at the glacial pace of  of the newspapers and websites in the report in terms of hiring more women.

Smile, nod and shut up

Growing up, I wanted to be a sportswriter for a newspaper. After watching another disappointing showing by a Philadelphia sports team, I would retreat to my bedroom and write an analysis of the game and my very bitter opinion. I glued it to a piece of construction paper and sold it to my parents for a nickel.

Not exactly how a lot of girls spent their pre-teens in the early nineties, but I had two parents who were supportive and sometimes, it just takes a little bit of encouragement in the early stages to provide a strong enough foundation. In high school, I would spend more time studying Philadelphia and New York sports sections than I did actual homework.

In college, I did freelance for a few local papers where I was mostly assigned to cover girls’ sports at the local high school. I was grateful for any opportunity to write – so I smiled, shut up and turned in my work before deadline. After college, I needed something more stable than freelance work since I had a mountain of student loans and needed decent health insurance due to health issues.

I’ve had similar conversations (with men and women) when talking about my career path. Whenever I mention that sports publications or sports sections of newspapers haven’t hired many women, I get a rebuttal.

“Actually, that one woman who works for Sports Illustrated/The Washington Post/etc. does a great job.”

Yes. The “one” woman.

I read her work and think she’s great.

The one woman they hired while in a department with at least a dozen other men. So I smile, nod and shut up.

Male/female breakdown of speakers

The SBC Summit North America was canceled last year due to COVID-19. This year was an opportunity to connect in-person with many I’ve only communicated with via email. Since the company I work for, Catena Media, is remote, it was a chance to meet co-workers face-to-face instead of on Zoom.

There was also networking and two full days of panels.

Here is a male/female breakdown of speakers for each day and speaker track.

Day 1

Leaders in Sports: 20 male, 2 female
Innovation and Technology: 21 male, 2 female
Regulatory roundup: 18 male, 2 female

Day 2

Future of Sports betting: 19 male, 10 female
iGaming Americas: 17 male, 1 female
Engagement marketing affiliation: 20 male, 3 female

Total: 56 male and 20 female speakers

The panels I attended had excellent insight like:

“We’ve only scratched the surface on the content we are offering. We have live dealer and online slots. We think there is a lot of room for growth and now is the time to prepare operationally,” said Jeff Miller, Director at Evolution.

“Curation is the opposite of work. Swipe up on TikTok. Everything is tied to social interaction and it is the driver of digital engagement,” commented Tomash Devenishek, CEO of Rush Sports.

Adi Dhandhania, Senior VP of Strategy and Interactive at Bally’s Corp., said that their slot demographic skews female.

A trailblazer who never shut up

Jan Jones Blackhurst was Las Vegas’ first female mayor and spent over twenty years as Executive Vice President for Government Relations and Corporate Responsibility for Caesars Entertainment. She’s been a steadfast advocate for women in gaming.

“I’ve been giving this same speech for 25 years and it’s getting really old,” Blackhurst said in an interview in 2020.

“Latency” was a word used during a number of panels at the SBC Summit to discuss the amount of time it takes the system to process a bet or how long it takes for a game to load. No one likes that spinning wheel or a bar that is slowly loading. Customers expect an app to be instantaneous.

If Blackhurst has been talking about gender in gaming for 25 years(!) perhaps that’s another latency issue worth addressing. And, if she’s been talking about it for twenty-five years, how many women have simply “logged off” and chosen to play another game?

If she hasn’t shut up out of sheer exhaustion, how can I even think about being quiet?

“Cultural changes and recruiting changes”

In Jan. 2020, Blackhurst was named the chief executive in residence at UNLV’s International Gaming Institute which aims to support gender equity through the university’s “Expanding the Leaderverse” program.

“There are cultural changes you need to make and recruiting changes that you need to put in place and measurements that you need to be grading yourself against to see if you’re really making a movement. You need tremendous buy-in.”

In Feb. 2021, sports betting operator Entain and UNLV announced a first-of-its-kind partnership. Women’s Innovation Igniter, spearheaded by Blackhurst, is meant to “open a path for women students seeking careers in the sports betting, gaming, and technology industries.”

“You expose these women to students, and they see themselves. You can’t be what you can’t see.”

Organizations with greater diversity tend to have higher profits

There are already qualified, smart, creative women working in various roles in sports betting and iGaming. Do they look around their office or Zoom meetings and see mostly men? How many of the women they work with have children? Are over 40? Over 50?

A diverse workplace isn’t just the “right thing,” it’s profitable.

A study from McKinsey & Company that analyzed more than 1,000 companies showed organizations with greater diversity among their executive teams “tend to have higher profits and longer-term value as well.”

While there is plenty of room for us in the ladies room, how much room is given to women in tech and development for iGaming products? Marketing for iGaming products?

The sports betting customer base will always be a majority male. It shouldn’t matter when operators are recruiting talent to design the best sportsbook (some really could use an upgrade), create promotions that attract customers, and continue to think of new ways to make the sports betting experience better.

What type of foundation can we build?

Is it about “me” or “we?”

Even if you don’t have your sights set for the C-suite, do you want to make the sports betting or iGaming industry a little bit better than you found it?

Part of that includes not shutting up. It’s easier to not write this and pick something off the stack of “to-do” news stories. It’s less taxing to send a snarky tweet about the women’s room than to reflect on the reasoning behind it.

It’s also easier to just think, “Hey, I’m comfortable where I’m at, no need to start shit that might get me roasted in the comment section.” Or, perhaps you might choose to sit this one out because no woman was your mentor and you did it all on your own.

I can do better. I can highlight more women leaders and those who work behind the scenes. Offer solutions, instead of just complaining. And I can not shut up and ask for your feedback. There are a ton of other things I can do.

Another common theme at the SBC Summit was how sports betting and iGaming are still in the early stages and just getting started.

Let’s build a strong foundation together.

Lead image by Katie Kohler

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Katie Kohler

Katie Kohler is a Philadelphia-area based award-winning journalist and Managing Editor at PlayPennsylvania. Katie especially enjoys creating unique content and on-the-ground reporting in PA. She is focused on creating valuable, timely content about casinos and sports betting for readers. Katie has covered the legal Pennsylvania gambling industry for Catena Media since 2019.

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